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Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Departures: None projected. Outside chance of Richard transfer.
Depth Chart:

  1. Chad Henne (So)
  2. Matt Guttierez (R. Jr)
  3. Clayton Richard (R. So)
  4. Jason Forcier (Fr)
Outlook: Let's look at some numbers first.

Player.......Att-Cmp Yards Pct TD Int Avg
QB #1........270-456 3331 59.2 24 10 12.3
QB #2........240-399 2743 60.2 25 12 11.3

QB #1: fifth-year senior John Navarre. QB #2: true freshman Chad Henne.

Okay, they weren't exactly working with the same Legos. Navarre had almost the same line and WRs Henne did, but they were a year younger and not as good. Nevertheless, I would like to repeat: that's Navarre as a fifth-year senior, Henne as a true freshman. If Henne can make the same progress John did between his sophomore year and his junior year... look out. Just look the hell out.

A lot of people have been discounting Henne's performance this year as a lot of poo interspersed with Braylon Edwards brilliantly catching bombs. There's certainly an argument to be made that Henne's numbers were artificially inflated by the presence of Edwards, but, uh... Edwards played last year, too. And as easy as it sounds to throw a ball forty yards downfield in the immediate vicinity of Edwards, uh, it ain't. There's no doubt Henne needs to work on his mechanics, make his reads quicker, and learn to take something off his passes more often. He needs to throw a more consistently accurate, catchable ball. I believe he will learn to do this. Every Michigan quarterback in the last ten years has made remarkable strides each year he worked with Scott Loeffler. There's no reason to believe that Henne will be the first one to fail to improve. Loeffler has been given John Elway raw material here and has begun to implant Tom Brady's brain in him. The sky is the limit.

The backup situation should be okay. Clayton Richard is going to start playing baseball, so there seems to be little chance he will transfer. Matt Guttierez should be fully recovered from his chest injury by the time fall rolls around. Should Henne get injured Michigan will have the option of putting in an Elite-11 player with experience in the system.

Wide Reciever
Departures: Braylon Edwards, Jermaine Gonzalez
Depth Chart:
  1. Jason Avant (Sr), Steve Breaston(R. Jr)
  2. Carl Tabb (R. Jr), Adrian Arrington(So)
  3. Doug Dutch(R. Fr), Mario Manningham(Fr)
  4. Morgan Trent(R. Fr), Antonio Bass(Fr), LaTerryal Savoy(Fr)
Outlook: You do not replace Braylon Edwards. mgoblog's editorial stance is that Edwards remains #2 behind Anthony Carter in the Greatest Wolverine Wideout of All Time competition, but #2 is still damned good. Edwards' big play ability was unmatched in college football this year and will not be seen again for many years. You do not replace Braylon Edwards.

That said, Jason Avant and Steve Breaston are both terrific receivers in their own right. Avant is a black hole of a wide reciever--balls go in but never come out--and Breaston is Michigan's most electric player with the ball in his hands since, well, Anthony Carter. Carl Tabb was injured and forgotten most of last year but he is a flat burner who has saved a couple long kickoff returns against Michigan from going the distance.

Then there are the underclassmen, featuring no fewer than five, FIVE, Rivals top-100 playmakers. The competition behind Avant and Breaston will be absolutely brutal. Expect no fewer than seven wide receivers to see time this year as they battle it out.

The deep ball will occupy a scaled-back role in the Michigan offense this year without Edwards, but if Avant and Breaston are healthy, they should both have monster years. Someone will emerge from the pack to provide a third or fourth option for Henne on passing downs... Michigan has just accumulated far too much talent at WR for all of it to go bust.

Running Back
Departures: Pierre Rembert (transfer), Tim Bracken, David Underwood
Depth Chart:

  1. Mike Hart (So)
  2. Kevin Grady (Fr)
  3. Max Martin (So)
  4. Jerome Jackson (Jr)

Outlook: That depth chart is beautiful. All significant contributors return. Mike Hart was by far the best freshman tailback in Michigan history despite playing sparingly in the first two games. Kevin Grady is lining up to be #1A. Michigan will have an Auburn-like 1-2 punch at RB, with high-stepping Max Martin seeing spot duty as needed.

Hart was a workhorse, leading the entire nation in carries even without those first two games. The addition of Grady will cut into his yards but should up his average as defenses will now have to deal with a bowling ball in addition to the pinball. It will be tough for opposing defenses to adapt to the different styles Michigan will present them with its three headed RB monster, which, unlike opposing defensive linemen, will remain fresh deep into fourth quarters.

Departures: Kevin Dudley
Depth Chart:

  1. Roger Allison (R. Fr)
  2. Obi Oluigbo (R. So)
  3. Brian Thompson (R. Sr)

Outlook: Don't fool yourself; Dudley's loss will hurt a lot. Did you notice Derrick Johnson at the Rose Bowl? I didn't either, except for one admittedly badass forced fumble on Max Martin. The reason he was so quiet--he finished with 1.5 tackles--was that Duds was stapled to his facemask the whole game. We revolved our running offense the past two years around the fact that Dudley was going to plow any linebacker he faced five yards downfield. Look at it this way: Brian Thompson was a major contributor two years ago, and is a much better receiver and runner than Dudley. The only time he touched the ball this year was recovering the onside kick against MSU. Dudley is a Keith Jackson-style hoss.

I'm making a guess that redshirt freshman Roger Allison gets the job here. Oluigbo saw some time and Thompson has a lot of experience, but Allison was getting coach buzz as a true freshman. Playing fullback. That's weird. No one notices fullbacks. Allison has big shoes to fill. Let's hope he gets the job done. The failure of whoever wins the fullback job to perform at Dudley's level is the only thing that can prevent the running game from taking a major step forward.

Offensive Line
Departures: David Baas
Depth Chart (left to right):
  1. Kolodziej (R. Jr)/ Riley (R. Sr) / Stenavich (R. Sr) / Lentz (R. Sr) / Long (R. So)
  2. Mitchell (R. Fr) / Henige (R. Sr) / Kraus (R. Jr) / Gallimore (R.Fr) / Ciulla (R. Fr)

Outlook: Four starters return from a line that played pretty well as the season wore on. Henne got sacked an awful lot at the beginning of the season. That was only partly the offensive line's fault, as Henne was often indecisive and held the ball far too long. But there were other times when Stenavich could not contain a speed rusher or Lentz got blown up. Iowa's Matt Roth was a destructive force against Michigan.

The line will probably end up being more of the same if the center position can get squared away. Stenavich is not a great player and will have trouble with speedy defensive ends but will be adequate against most teams. Long is a beast. The interior line should be solid but not dominating. Sacks will drop precipitously, more because of Henne maturing than the line improving. Michigan will not convert as many third and shorts as they should. Kolodziej got some time early in the year at RT before Long moved in and played very well in the Rose Bowl.

The projection above assumes that Stenavich makes a Baas-like move to center, as coaches have implied in public interviews and that Kolo takes over at LT. Most of the backups actually project as interior linemen; all the tackles are in this year's class. If a tackle gets injured, Stenavich will probably return to LT and Kraus will step in at center.

Tight End
Jim Fisher
Depth Chart:

  1. Tim Massaquoi (R. Sr)
  2. Tyler Ecker (R. Jr)
  3. Mike Massey (R. Fr)

Outlook: The two tight ends combined for 35 catches last year, which is okay. Massaquoi ended up all-Big Ten despite catching a total of 18 balls and no touchdowns. Ecker had one of the season's most memorable catches when he turned a crossing route into a 24 yard game-winning touchdown against Minnesota.

Michigan seems to have lost that waggle magic after three years of the leadfooted John Navarre at QB, but I expect it to return with a vengance in '05. The tight ends are athletic, Henne has the athletic ability to get out of the pocket, and the zone sweep play that the play action simulates should be seen early and often by opponents, as Mike Hart is the perfect back to run it. With Braylon Edwards' 97 catches having to spread out around the offense, I expect the tight ends to pick up 20 to 30 of those balls. The key will be getting those catches 15 or 20 yards downfield behind linebackers instead of 3 or 4 yards downfield in front of them.


Despite starting the year very slowly--Michigan didn't crack the 400 yard mark until the fifth game of the season against lowly Indiana--Michigan recovered to finish 46th offensively despite featuring an all-true freshman backfield for the entire year. It's really hard to gauge how well the offense did this year, as it was a bizarre one. Michigan started the year with a 43-10 win over Miami of Ohio but only racked up 274 yards of offense since the defense set them up with short fields the entire day. They beat Iowa, scoring 30 points on only 327 yards of offense because of Iowa's 5 turnovers. Howling winds made throwing vs. Illinois nearly impossible. Michigan's offense vs. MSU was mediocre at best until an impossibly late fourth-quarter Braylonfest severely inflated Michigan's statistics--and won them the game. Michigan scored 37 points against Texas despite only gathering 352 yards of offense because Steve Breaston set them up at midfield after every horribly failed attempt at defense.

Make no mistake, 46th is mediocre, but the stats don't tell the whole tale. Look at it without the weird first four games: Michigan averaged 426.5 yards a game, which would be good for 23rd in the country. (Admittedly, this requires removing the best defense Michigan played, Iowa.) I think that's a more realistic picture of the offense. Mike Hart didn't exist against MU or ND. Chad Henne was still reading Tiger Beat. Michigan got a freakishly high number of turnovers which limited the distance Michigan had to drive to score. Michigan's offense was very bad to start the year. By the end of the year, it was good. That's remarkable.

Some of that was undoubtedly due to the magnificence of Braylon Edwards. Chad Henne was a decent-to-above-average Big Ten quarterback but was bailed out repeatedly by his receivers, else his stats would not look nearly as pretty as they did. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Henne will have to improve just to keep his stats at the level they were this year. He will have to improve a lot to make a step forward. I think he will. He's never had an offseason in college. Scott Loeffler is Jesus coaching quarterbacks.

The run game should improve, although I don't know how much better Mike Hart can be. He fumbled once all year, finished 10th in the nation in rushing yards, and averaged 5.3 yards a carry. Expecting improvement would be ridiculous. I suppose he could work on his screen receiving skills, as he dropped a few over the course of the year. Where the run game will improve will be via the addition of Kevin Grady. Despite Hart's brilliance, UM still finished 61st in rushing(!), since Hart was the entire ground game. Alternating the two mighty mites will keep both fresh. The prospect of Grady grinding down defenses who have tried to catch and tackle Hart all game is appealing.

The offensive line had a rough start to the season but stabilized as the year went on. There is a bonafide star in RT Jake Long, who mgoblog predicts will be an All-American and first round pick by the time his career is finished. Losing Baas is tough, but the other four starters return and there are two experienced backups in Kolodziej and Henige. The center hole may be filled by a position switch, as both Riley and Henige proved themselves capable at the guard position and Mark Bihl did not perform well when tried at C earlier this year.

The tight ends both return, and will play a larger part in the offense with Edwards' departure. Converted WR Tim Massaquoi should find himself on seam routes blowing past linebackers biting on play-action a lot in his final season as Henne broadens his knowledge of the playbook and spreads the ball around more.

But it all comes back to one man: Chad Henne. Henne will have an embarrassment of riches at his disposal between Hart, Grady, Avant, Breaston, the tight ends, and an emerging group of gamebreaking underclassmen wide receivers. The line should at least maintain its level of performance this year. Michigan's offense will be good. It will only be great if Henne makes The Leap (hat tip: Bill Simmons). Without the one-play bomb touchdown to Edwards, Henne will have to be more consistently accurate to drive Michigan down the field.

Michigan's offense is poised to explode next year. Edwards, Dudley, and Baas will all be missed, but the returning talent is immense. If Chad Henne can use the weapons around him, Michigan's offense will be among the best in the nation. I expect Henne's completion percentage to hit 65%, his YPA to drop a bit, his interceptions to drop significantly. I expect Michigan's run game to go from 1843 yards this year to around 2200 next year, due to a significant drop in sacks and Grady being a bad, bad man. Michigan should end up next year in the top 20 offenses. Michigan could end up in the top ten.

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

any truth to the rumors that trent is a db?